Interpreting cemeteries sparks economic growth

By Jena Johnson - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - On a peaceful evening in Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches, eyes were wide and ears were listening as Theresa Cobble told a story. "The people who are buried in these cemeteries represent the stories, the tradition and the history of the area, " said Theresa Cobble, Associate Forestry Professor at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Collaberation between the City of Nacogdoches and SFA has resulted in a $250,000 "Preserve America" grant from the National Park Service for cemetery interpretation. The grant will provide the oldest town in Texas the means to capitalize on a growing trend. "Tourism is always one piece of a strategy to increase a local economy and diversify the economy," said Cobble.

With tourism being the number one money making industry in our economy, Cobble and other geneaologists are striking while the iron's hot. "Heritage tourists and genealogists will be huge because it's the fastest growing hobby in America. And a lot of people that do travel, one of the emerging groups is heritage tourists," said Cobble.

The tricky part is how to make a cemetary a tourists hot-spot. A SFA grad student decided technology was the missing piece of the puzzle. "The grad student came out with a Global Positioning System unit and GPS'd all the different gravesites and produced a Global Information System map and it was clickable, which was the coolest part," said Cobble.

Melvin Johnson, a history professor at Angelina College, said technology is the perfect bait to reel in tourists. "Find a hook for your community and then build tourism around it," said Johnson. Johnson said taking a walk through the past helps prepare you for your future.

Cobble said she hopes their project will inspire other communities to capitalize on their town's history. Other program objectives are to facilitate a unified approach to community-based cemetery interpretation throughout the five-count Crossroads Region of the El Camino Reel de los Tejas National Historic Trail. They also hope to plan a regional tourism initiatives related to cemetery tourism.